Charleston, SC: The Charming South
Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Southport, NC to Charleston, SC (via Calabash, SC) //
As we came in to Southport under rough conditions in the afternoon of Monday, November 26, we made the decision to pull into one of the marinas along the ICW — it was going to be impossible to continue on. There were very little anchorage areas on this next stretch of the waterway, and with the inclement weather, we were not going to chance it. We ended up docking at South Harbour Village Marina for the next two days. While there, we found out one of the neighboring marinas offered free weather and marine briefings every evening from October through December, so we made it our mission to attend, learn more about the ICW, and polish up on reading weather charts — so worth it!
Before the weather briefing Tuesday night, we worked hard on researching our passage to Charleston, SC and narrowed our options to the following: 1) Head directly from Southport the next day, in which case we needed to catch a favorable current out on the Cape Fear River, or 2) motor down to Calabash, SC, and head out to the coast from there. Now, the latter would have required a total of 30 hours of being functional, as we had to head down the ICW first and anchor in the afternoon in order to wait for favorable current to go out to sea. Long day for sure. Needless to say, Tuesday's briefing would help us feel more confident about whatever decision we were to make.
Why the rush? You might ask. Well, the next two lovely evenings were forecasted to be below freezing all along the coast. Nowhere was safe. And if you’ve learned anything from our trip so far, is: WE NEED TO GET SOUTH! We are doing our best to stay below the next cold front or the next weather system on the horizon. They seem to develop consistently every three to four days, which means we are on the go almost every day. The cold weather itself by this point has become unbearable. We figured we’d rather spend the evening out on the water, offshore, where the air temprerature would stay “milder” because of the wind traveling over warmer water. Even then, while you might think 40s or 50s is good enough (I’m looking at you New Englanders), being constantly exposed to the elements, wind, and rain in some cases, is very exhausting. Not only that, we are also limited to a 16oz can of propane in a small portable heater as our main source of heat at a time... Not that we are trying to paint such a grim picture, it has certainly been a challenge. But we’ve decided to power through it, together. In any case, we are not the only ones out there doing this. At Southport, we met more fellow cruisers and we’ve heard much worst stories about people leaving as late as December, or getting stuck in places like Charleston due to impending snow. What continues to make this an enjoyable and memorable trip is the people we meet and the new places we get to explore and discover. And so, on Tuesday evening, we went out into Southport with our newest comrades from S/V Bullship (yes, such a cool name) and grabbed a beer before heading into the weather briefing at Southport Marina. The night before we had hung with the crew from S/V North 45 and S/V Abigail Grace, aboard yet another friendly cruiser's newly bought used trawler. It was nice and toasty at his place. We all had a few beers and shared a few stories and tips about the passage South.
On the early morning of Wednesday, November 28, we continued monitoring the weather and decided to take the Calabash route as the seas outside of Southport were between 5-7 feet. There was a small craft advisory scheduled to end around 11am. We figured we would let the seas sort themselves out by the time we got out to the ocean in the afternoon. By 3pm, we had anchored and eaten a late lunch off Calabash Creek, and motored our way down the Little River Inlet to sea. I’ll preface the following by saying we we were both so pumped to get going, to be making some progress, and to finally let our sails out that evening — hopefully for the entire overnight. I myself was gung-go about this next leg... Unfortunately, once we got out of the inlet into the open water, the seas were still a bit choppy (we knew we were being too optimistic about the seas settling from 5-7 feet earlier in the day to 2-3 feet in the afternoon...). However, we did had favorable NW winds blowing at a consistent 10-15 knots. Yet, for some reason, I lost it and freaked out. Being in the ICW for quite sometime now, perhaps I forgot what it felt to be taking on waves head on while the boat was actually sailing, sailing fast. Perhaps it had already been a long day and I was feeling exhausted, but it took me a while to mentally get used to the conditions. Nevertheless, Tom was extremely supportive and kept reassuring that we were safe — we truly were — reminding me the chop was to subside throughout the evening. But, it was one of those very human moments where you start questioning whether you’ve really got it in you, and later on you realize you do.
As the evening went on, Tom at the helm most of the time while I composed myself, he let Mr. Fleming (the windvane) take over and do his thing. By midnight, the chop had subsided, and we were on full sail mode until 8am the next day! We both did our 3-hour shifts that evening and managed Mr. Fleming pretty successfully, staying away from incoming barges and coastal shoals. It was one of the best sails we’ve had in this trip so far. The night was so clear you could count every star in the galaxy. These are some of the moments that make all the challenges so worth it.
As we came into Charleston the next day, we were again relieved and thankful for another pleasant overnight. We rode into the main channel in a nice incoming tide. As soon as we entered the harbor we couldn’t help but draw comparisons to our homebase of Charlestown or New England in general. The scale was very similar to familiar ports like Portsmouth, NH, with hints of York and Portland, ME. The bridge off our starboard looked similar to the Zakim Bridge with sailboats dotting the horizon. Given the brisk, but sunny fall weather, we might have as well be arriving at our old ‘hood (somehow we keep thinking the weather should have turned warmer at this point, but it is almost December... Not sure what we are expecting, neither of us have really traveled in these areas before).
Once settled in the anchorage area between the Charleston City Marina and the Coastguard Station, next to three derelict sailboats all owned by crazyman Dab (he gave a hard time to our buddy boat S/V Bullship, which was supposedly anchoring near his crab traps...), we Ubered to the grocery store for provisioning and to the West Marine next door to grab a replacement drain for the boat’s fuel/water separator which we had noticed was leaking more profusely recently (Tom had known about the issue, and since Charleston was our next BIG stop, he was able to call ahead and reserve the part. Thanks Chi and Mike for the gift card!). In the afternoon, we continued on to tour Charleston's south peninsula by foot. If there is anything to remember Charleston by, aside from its very complex history, is its palmettos and porches. We made our way through town drooling over the incredible colonial homes at every turn — such historic gems! Sure, the mansions were grand as well. But with their narrow fronts and long airy porches flanking their longer sides, ceiling fans whipping the light breeze through, vines growing untamed, the Charleston Single House typology made for a welcoming streetscape.
By 5pm it was happy hour, thus time to celebrate another successful overnight. We met again with our friends from S/V Bullship for $5 old-fashions and $1 Miller high life pony’s at a friendly locale on King Street. The next few days were spent on doing more exploration,
Tom working on the Raycor filter, finding a repair shop to finally get the screen on my old iPhone replaced (so we could use it for backup navigation), and weathering some yucky weather at the Charleston City Marina for the last two days of our stay, not without indulging in some local Low Country Cups on the half shell before departing. Come Monday, December 3, we were back in the ocean making our way to St. Mary’s Inlet, at the tip of the state of Georgia, for our next stop at Cumberland Island.